The life and times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon

Aaron Crossley Seymour, W.E. Painter 1844 [first ed 1839] vol.2, p296-300

[Full text of vol 1 here, and vol 2 here]

It was some time in the year 1773 that the Rev. Lawrence Coughlan, an episcopally-ordained clergyman, who had just returned from Newfoundland, and was then preaching in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, first directed her Ladyship's attention to this scene of her labours. In a letter to one of her students, (the late Rev. John Hawkesworth), dated October 1773, she says I am treating about ground to build a large, very large chapel at Wapping, in London. The lease was for twenty-one years; and during the building of the chapel Dr. Peckwell, assisted by Mr. Coughlan, the Rev. C. Stewart Eccles, an Irish clergyman who had returned from Georgia, and others, with several of her students, continued to preach under the Mulberry Trees with great acceptance and success. The Rev. John Clayton, having finished his academical course at Trevecca, under the patronage of Lady Huntingdon, had now commenced preaching in her Ladyship’s chapels, and also in the Tabernacle connexion. Having obtained an established reputation as a preacher, Lady Huntingdon appointed him to supply the Mulberry Gardens, where his ministry was much approved. About the period of which we are now writing, the Rev. George Burder also occasionally preached at this place.

[footnote: Mr. Burder's first serious impressions were received at Tottenham-court Chapel, where he frequently heard Mr. Whitefield and Captain Scott; he also occasionally heard Mr. Romaine with much profit. It is a singular circumstance, that Mr. Clayton and Mr. Border were at this period scarcely determined whether to take their lot with the Dissenters or not. They had found abundantly more of the power of God with the Evangelical clergymen and with the Calvinistic Methodists; end they were rather inclined to enter into the Church, under the apprehension of obtaining a more extensive field of usefulness. It seems Mr. Clayton was at one time upon the eve of receiving episcopal ordination; but, upon further investigation, was led to dissent for reasons that appeared to him of sufficient weight. He afterward became pastor of the Weigh-house meeting, one of the oldest and most respectable of the Dissenting churches in London; and Mr. Burder was pastor of Fetter-lane meeting, which has always ranked amongst the most ancient of the congregational persuasion, and in which both his father nnd brother were active and useful deacons for many years.]

He had been a stated communicant at the Tabernacle, and had just then began his ministerial career in the Methodistical way, by preaching in the open air, which (says he) I have never seen reason to repent — I believe it is the best way still — and I rejoice that I began, at first, to go without the camp, bearing his reproach.

The chapel was not opened till the close of the year 1776, and the delay was principally owing to some unpleasant differences relative to the choice of a resident minister. Mr. Toplady was then living in London, and was consulted by her Ladyship on the best means of terminating this painful controversy. His letter, detailing the particulars of the dispute between Mr. Coughlan and the managers appointed by her Ladyship, is dated October 29, 1776, from which we select the following extracts:—

I have had a long interview with Messrs. Young and Gibbs, who have perused and taken a copy of the rough draught of the lease sent by your Ladyship. Since that period, 1 have requested to see them again; but four or five days are now elapsed without their coming. I would repeat my call on them at one or both of their houses, but I know, by experience, that I should run a very great risk of not meeting with them.

From the conversation I had with them, they really strike me as upright, undesigning men, who have taken much pains to have a fixed stand for the Gospel at the Mulberry Gardens, and who have met with little more than slander and misrepresentation in return. They aver, that they never had the remotest wish of rendering the Chapel a Dissenting Meeting; that they would never consent to such a perversion of it from its original purpose; that they earnestly desire the whole management of the spiritualities may be vested entirely in your Ladyship; and that it may be conducted on the same plan as your other chapels, where a rotation of ministers is kept up. They further add, that the sole reason why the building is at a dead stand (for so it still remains), is, Mr. Coughlan's visit to them, informing them, 'that, by your Ladyship's authority, he was to be stated minister of the chapel when finished'. Upon which, when the people heard of it, they peremptorily refused, and at this very day refuse to advance any farther subscriptions; and, moreover, insist upon their past subscription money being returned to them, as they are determined that neither Mr. Coughlan nor Mr. Latless (who went with him on the above occasion), shall be fixed as a minister over them. If I may presume to give my judgment, I am most clearly of opinion that a people who have expended, and are expending, a considerable sum of money for erecting a place of religious worship on the plan of the Gospel, ought not to have Mr. Coughlan rammed down their throats, supposing him to be ever so good a kind of man. I am by no means convinced that they ever made any proposal to Messrs. Young and Gibbs respecting the transfer of the chapel from your Ladyship's patronage to their connexion. I have been twice at Mr. Keene's house, but he was, both of these times, from home. I shall take the first opportunity of putting the question to him ...

Mr. Coughlan has been thrice with me. I do not heartily fall in with all he says. He will have it that Young and Gibbs are Dissenters. They solemnly deny that charge; and I firmly believe them. He denied to me, and called God to witness the truth of the denial, that he ever proposed himself to Young and Gibbs as the designed minister of the chapel in debate. On the contrary, they declare themselves ready to make affidavit of it before any magistrate or bench of magistrates in London. What shall we say to these things? I would not be rash or uncharitable; but I am prodigiously mistaken if Mr. Coughlan is not the snake in the grass; or the Jonas, who, for some hidden ends of his own, has raised the whole of the present storm ...

Allow me likewise, without offence, to decline, most tenderly and most respectfully, letting my name stand on any instrument wherein Mr. Parker has anything to do. I have known him well; and he is among that particular sort of good men whom I hope to meet in Heaven, but with whom I must beg to be excused from having much personal intercourse on earth.

Several letters passed between Lady Huntingdon and the managers relative to the Mulberry Gardens Chapel. Mr. Coughlan defended himself with much ingenuity, and deprecated the idea of ever having entertained an idea of becoming minister of the chapel. Such contradictory statements, observes her Ladyship, are puzzling, and leave a melancholy uncertainty of the truth and fidelity that ought to sway every honest heart. On the 8th of November, Mr. Hall, her Ladyship's attorney, called on Mr. Toplady, desiring such information as was in his power to give concerning the chapel. At his request, says Mr. Toplady, I entrusted him with the rough draught of the deed, drawn up for you by your Ladyship's lawyer in Wales. The same evening I wrote to Young and Gibbs, and forwarded my letter by a special messenger; apprising them that, by your direction, I should engage a select number of your friends in town, to give them (Young and Gibbs) the meeting, on any day which they should fix; at which time, I added, I hoped the good providence of God would give such a turn to affairs as might result in the mutual satisfaction of both parties. I had no answer till the 14th, when I received a letter from Gibbs, which ran thus:—

"Sir,—I received your letter, and the same day received one from her Ladyship, which gives us no such information as what you mentioned in yours. And as our business is with her Ladyship alone, we shall not wait on you nor you on us."

I immediately communicated the contents of the above to Mr. Hall by the penny-post, and desired him to act as he thought would be most agreeable to you. What has been since done, I know not.

An appeal on the part of the managers was made to Lady Huntingdon, who consulted with Mr. Toplady, Mr. Shirley, and others, on the best means of terminating this painful controversy. Through the kind interference of these gentlemen, who took great interest in all the affairs relating to Mulberry Gardens Chapel, the matter was amicably arranged, and the chapel opened according to the forms of the Church of England, and was supplied by a periodical change of ministers. The building, which was of considerable extent, was fitted up in a tasteful and elegant manner. The labours of her Ladyship's ministers gave great offence to their more regular brethren, who, alarmed at their popularity and ashamed by their diligence, endeavoured to silence them by various acts of persecution. Their efforts, however, were vain. Being sincere in the cause they had undertaken, opposition gave a stimulus to their exertions, and abundant success attended their unwearied and indefatigable labours.

The Independent Meeting House (called Nightingale-lane Meeting), of which the Rev. Henry Mayo, D.D., had for many years been the respected minister, was the freehold of Messrs T. & R. Allen, brewers; as was also the Mulberry Garden Chapel. Wishing for the ground on which the Nightingale-lane meeting stood to enlarge their brewery, and refusing to renew the lease of the Mulberry Garden chapel, they proposed to the Nightingale-lane congregation an exchange of buildings, and engaged, on their agreeing to move, to fit up at their own expense, the whole or any said part of the said chapel for their accommodation. The proposal was at length accepted. The chapel (a little contracted) was fitted up and opened on Sunday, April 1st, 1798. The late Rev. John Humphrys, LL.D., preached in the morning, from 1 Kings viii, 57, and the Rev. John Knight in the afternoon from Haggai ii. 9. The place was still to be called Nightingale-lane Meeting, nor was its name changed till the building was removed for the London Docks, when the congregation having purchased and fitted up a commodious Hall, in Pell-street, for a place of worship, it was usually denominated Pell-street Meeting. Throughout the whole management of the business in question, there was nothing dishonourable either on the part of Mr. Knight or his friends.

After the expiration of the lease, the old congregation belonging to Lady Huntingdon's Chapel dispersed, some to the Ladyship's Chapel at Spafields, and others to Sion Chapel; but the greater part removed to Charlotte-street Chapel, where they continued to assemble till it was obliged to be taken down for the erection of the New Docks. The congregation, therefore, erected a new place of meeting in Pell-street, Wellclose-square, which was called the 'New Mulberry Gardens Chapel'. This spacious place of worship was opened on the same plan as the others in Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, in which the service of the Church of England is regularly performed. It was opened on the 29th of September, 1802, on which occasion three sermons were preached: that in the morning bv the Rev. John Hay, of Bristol: that in the afternoon by the Rev. F. W. Platt, of Holywell Mount Chapel : and that in the evening by the Rev. Griffith Williams, of Gate-street Chapel, Lincoln's-inn-fields. The chapel was supplied by a rotation of ministers, chiefly from the country, till the beginning of the year 1804, when the managers and people gave an unanimous call to the Rev. Isaac Nicholson, President of Lady Huntingdon's College, to be their pastor. This respectable clergyman accepted the invitation, and laboured there, with unabated ardour and growing usefulness for three years and a half, during which period one hundred and forty members were admitted to the society, a great proportion of whom were awakencd under his own ministry. It will long be remembered by many with what humility and dependence upon supernatural aid he entered upon his work at the Mulberry Gardens Chapel, and how highly he valued and earnestly requested the prayers of God's people, as a most sure prelude to success. But his labours were not confined to this sphere of usefulness — he had a lecture on Tuesday evenings, partly at his own expense; nor did he ever refuse a call elsewhere.

He also accompanied a beneficial reorganisation of his church, for he was an enemy to promiscuous and unscriptural communion. Suitable officers were appointed, who, with their pastor, examined each member as to his experience, and after inquiring into his moral character, he was readmitted for communion. Other churches, probably, might be purged from errors of doctrine or practice, by the adoption of a similar plan of reformation.

Success accompanied Mr. Nicholson's labours, till the approaching termination of his mortal course. On the morning of June 21, 1807, he preached in his own chapel with so much energy and unction, that some of his hearers observed that he seemed to be ripening apace for glory. In the evening he preached at Stratford, where it pleased the Lord to visit him with the affliction which ended in his dissolution, which took place a few days after June 29th, in the forty-seventh year of his age. His remains were interred at Bunhill Fields, amidst a great concourse of serious persons. Mr. Platt spoke at the grave, and Mr. Rennet, of Birmingham (both ministers in the Countess's Connexion), preached the funeral discourse at the Mulberry Gardens Chapel, to an overflowing congregation, who testified their deep sorrow for his departure.

Soon after the Mulberry Gardens Chapel was built, a large edifice, erected for a Mariners' Lodge, was purchased by the friends of the Rev. J. Knight, and neatly fitted up as a place of worship. The place was capable of holding about three hundred and fifty persons, and was publicly opened on the 5th of March, 1805; Mr. Buck, Mr. Townsend, Mr. George Clayton, and Mr. Simpson, of Hoxton, assisting on the occasion. For some time it was supplied by the students from Hoxton Academy, and at the close of the year 1805, Mr. Thomas Cloutt, from that academy, was ordained pastor of this small Independent Church. This place was an asylum to the church and congregation of Mulberry Gardens, for prayer and church meetings, during the interval when the managers of that day set aside all the rules of Church government which Mr. Nicholson had formed, and to which they had cordially assented: this matter was ultimately settled by the High Court of Chancery.

The Independent cause in Pell-street meeting became extinct about ten years since. The building was put up for sale at the Auction Mart, when, fearing it might fall into the hands of persons who would employ it for works of the devil, Mr. Stoddart, the present minister of Lady Huntingdon's Chapel, purchased it, where, since that time, the Gospel has been occasionally, and is now statedly, preached: it is only about twelve yards from the present Mulberry Gardens Chapel.

Mr. Nicholson dying in June, 1807, the chapel was supplied by a variety of ministers till the October of the following year, when the Rev. Robert Stoddart, of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, was publicly recognised as the stated pastor. He had commenced his labours in 1807, and was unanimously chosen by the church and congregation the first Sabbath in May 1808, when the sense of the church was taken by the Rev. W. F. Platt, of Holywell Mount. Mr. Stoddart was not publicly recognised until the October following, in consequence of his intended marriage with the daughter of the late Robert Hood, Esq., of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who, at his decease, left 100l. to Cheshunt College, and gave the freehold ground, and was principally instrumental in the erection of the neat and commodious chapel, capable of containing eight hundred persons, in the Postern [footnote: by a fatal mismanagement in London, this chapel was lost to the Connexion some time ago] at Newcastle, where the Rev. J. Browning, (afterwards of Warrington), became the pastor. At the public recognition of Mr. Stoddart, Mr. Gould, of Stratford, began with prayer; Mr. Young, now of Margate, then resident minister of her Ladyship's chapel at Canterbury, preached to the minister and people, from Col. ii. 5-7, which sermon was afterwards published.

Mr. Stoddart's introduction into the ministry and to the Mulberry Gardens Chapel was remarkable. Mr. Nicholson, while classical and divinity tutor at Lady Huntingdon's College, after the loss of an affectionate partner, fell into a state of nervous debility, and was advised by his medical attendant to try his native air in Cumberland, particularly desiring him to go by sea to Newcastle. Some days after his arrival at that place, there being but few students at College, he inquired if there was any young man in the Church who exhorted in the neighbouring villages? Mr. Stoddart was mentioned to him as one who usually exhorted the pitmen in the collieries at High Cross, where numbers of them resided. Mr. Nicholson sent for Mr. Stoddart, and from the simple narrative of his labours he was deeply affected, even to tears, and said, I think I see my errand in coming here; I will write to the trustees of the College, and, if you please, you shall go with me when I return from Cumberland. Mr. Nicholson returned to London by sea, and was accompanied by Mr. Stoddart.

But for him (says he) probably I should never have seen London. I was his last student at the College. The wonderful dispensation of Providence in bringing me to the Mulberry Gardens Chapel, are still marvellous in my eyes. So deeply was it impressed upon the mind of Mr. Nicholson, that he again and again repeated to the elders and deacons of that chapel my history; and the consequence was, an invitation given me to supply after his decease a people entirely unknown to me! It was truly said that the last days of that man of God were the best of all his days. The painful dispensation of Providence made him truly learned; he had indeed the tongue of the learned to speak a word in season to them who were weary and faint on the way. His ministry, in the conversion of sinners, was eminently successful; his life was holy, and his death triumphant.

Back to St Matthew Pell Street  |  Back to Dissenters & Nonconformists 3